Movie Review: Sunshine
By Tom Houseman
July 30, 2007
Danny Boyle can do anything. I mean anything. Boyle has made gritty dramas about drug addicts, terrifying zombie horrors, and heartwarming children's films. If you gave Danny Boyle a baseball bat, he could hit more home runs than Barry Bonds. If you gave him a microscope and some test tubes, he could cure cancer. If you gave him a masterfully written sci-fi screenplay, he could direct a superb, taut, near perfect film that packs an emotional wallop and might just be the best film of the year. Don't believe me? Go see Sunshine.
Sunshine is nothing short of a masterpiece. It lures you in slowly, stretching out its tentacles as you become immersed in the world laid out gorgeously in front of you. You become so enveloped in the story and the characters that you don't even realize how tight a grasp the film has on you until it rips your heart out. And once it starts, the onslaught is relentless. Danny Boyle's perfect direction brings Alex Garland's outstanding script to life so effortlessly that when it springs into action, the shock pulls you in head first and you can't get free until the credits roll, your heartbeat faster and your eyes wetter than they were at the beginning of the film.
The mission is simple enough for a science-fiction film: save the planet and all of humanity. That is the task appointed to the crew of the Icarus II. The Sun is dying, and the only way to keep Earth from freezing over is to cause a nuclear reaction on the Sun's surface that would reignite it. As their 16 month journey to the Sun is reaching its end, and the realization that they are Earth's only hope rests firmly on their shoulders, tension mounts among the crewmembers, a tension heavily exacerbated by the discovery that the crew of the Icarus I, the first ship sent on the same mission that lost contact with Earth seven years ago, might still be alive.
Danny Boyle, genius that he is, was smart enough to realize that great science-fiction is about more than special effects. Sunshine is very much about the characters and the intense pressure they are constantly feeling. The fear and anger that continually builds as the film progresses ravages both the crew and the audience. It is impossible not to empathize with the crew as they move ever closer to their final destination, which makes the extraordinary special effects even more stunning, because they are happening to characters you care about.
Alex Garland's outstanding screenplay never overdoes this pressure, but keeps it hidden beneath the surface, only occasionally exploding in gut wrenching moments. The dialogue is crisp and clever, revealing character, developing relationships, and moving the story forward. Even the slow, quiet moments have an incredible power that is overwhelming.
What Boyle does best as a director is bring out excellent performances from his actors, and Sunshine might be his best work in that respect. A true ensemble of eight - with almost no other characters in the film other than the crew - Sunshine features eight outstanding performances. Cillian Murphy has the only part that could be considered a lead, and his performance is so quiet and understated throughout much of the film that at first you might not realize what a complex, fascinating character he is. Murphy is a fantastic actor, and is never over the top in his performances, which, when everyone around you is experiencing mental breakdowns, is very refreshing.
Giving a shockingly good supporting performance is Chris Evans, best known as the irritating Human Torch in the Fantastic Four films. Apparently, when given a good part, Evans can give a great performance. He has a short fuse in Sunshine, an opposition to Murphy's constant calm. He butts heads with the other members of the crew, always thinking he knows what is best and blaming others for the myriad disasters. Other great performances in Sunshine include those by Rose Byrne, Cliff Curtis, and Benedict Wong.
But it is Danny Boyle's brilliant direction that makes Sunshine so powerful. With the combination of fascinating character development, extreme tension, and thrilling action, Sunshine is a visual and cinematic masterpiece. What will surely be one of the best films of the year, watching Sunshine is an incredible experience, an extraordinary film, the reason people fall in love with movies.